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Forgive

Lewis B. Smedes said “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner is you.” By holding a grudge, we think we are holding someone accountable. But more often than not, we are just holding onto hate or anger in our own hearts, and it only hurts us. If someone has hurt you, you can remember that and set the appropriate boundaries with them, while also working to let go of the anger, pain, and desire for revenge. This can be done in a couple different ways, and you may have to try multiple. You can express your feelings about it with a therapist or someone you trust. You can write a letter to the person expressing how you feel without actually sending it. You can try to empathize with the person without minimizing what they did. The silver lining of trying to empathize with and forgive someone is that it makes it easier to forgive yourself for mistakes you have made. Once you forgive, you will feel lighter and happier in your life.

Psychology and the Law: Psychologists’ Roles & Testimony in Legal Cases

“So…what exactly is a forensic psychologist?” 

This is one of the most common questions we receive at Lepage Associates when clients or attorneys are looking for the best kind of support for their legal cases. Though the title “forensic psychologist” often conjures up misleading images from crime shows, psychologists can genuinely play a pivotal role in multiple parts of the legal process.  

As expert witnesses, psychologists can provide both factual testimony and clinical opinions in family, civil, and criminal courts. Psychologists typically provide their educational background, curriculum vitae (CV), and other relevant information about their clinical and forensic experience. If asked to testify, a psychologist must be qualified as an expert in court with the judge’s approval. The psychologist may testify as a general expert on a topic, as an expert specific to the parties and case if he or she has treated or evaluated a party. Therapists also sometimes testify as a fact witness versus an expert witness.

An attorney can retain a psychologist to speak about their research – or the general state of the science – on a particular topic. In these instances the psychologist is acting as a general expert (on the topic), versus an expert who has meet with any of the parties and evaluated them specifically. For example, an expert on childhood trauma could provide information on trauma symptoms to a judge or jury. A psychologist can also speak on a topic of concern (e.g., parental alienation) by defining it, describing it for the court, and describing how it manifests or is relevant to the legal case. 

As an expert witness and evaluator, a forensic psychologist can be retained for specific legal matters and fairly and objectively answer such questions. Psychologists can provide both written evaluations and oral expert testimony. Many forensic evaluations include common elements – clinical interviews, collateral interviews (e.g., treatment providers, family, friends), psychological testing, a review of records, and conclusions. Records can be wide in scope and include legal documents, mental health records, depositions, emails/texts between parties, and copies of social media posts. The content and test selection, however, differ significantly based on the court and referral question. Evaluators testify as expert witnesses since they form a clinical opinion on the case.

Another avenue where psychologists can give helpful information is as a treating psychologist, i.e., therapist. If a plaintiff, defendant, or other court-involved party has a psychologist as an individual therapist, that therapist can comment on the course of treatment with their client as a fact witness. As a fact witness, however, a treating psychologist could not answer questions such as, “Do you believe he or she was insane at the time of the offense?” For a therapist to be asked about their clinical opinion, they should be sworn in as an expert.

Family Court 

Psychologists can assist attorneys and judges in divorce, custody, and guardianship or legal capacity cases. Psychologists can conduct full scale custody evaluations to help determine the ideal custody arrangement for parents and children, parental capacity evaluations that assess an adult’s ability to safely parent their children, or general psychological evaluations for children and adults to provide clinical information and treatment recommendations to the court. Testing can include but is not limited to personality tests and assessments of parental stress, substance use, or anger. By conducting thorough evaluations, forensic psychologists can weigh in with their clinical opinions and diagnostic impressions. Family courts can also determine a person’s competency to make medical, financial, or legal decisions, and intelligence, memory, and cognitive testing can give insight into specific capacities for certain types of decision-making. 

Civil Court

Civil court sees a wide breadth of cases. One common area for psychologists to give expert opinions is regarding emotional distress and mental health problems incurred by a plaintiff. Personality tests and trauma inventories can help elucidate the extent of such distress. Immigration evaluations by psychologists are also commonly requested in civil court. 

Criminal Court

In criminal court, psychologists are often court-appointed to conduct competency evaluations to help determine if a defendant can “understand and assist” in the trial process. Tests of personality and psychological functioning, specific competency assessments, and tests of malingering with validity scales are common for competency evaluations. Psychologists can also perform general psychological evaluations and risk assessments to gauge an individual’s risk of future violence or sexual offense. The results of these evaluations allow psychologists to give specific recommendations for treatment and risk reduction to benefit both community safety and the defendant. Contrary to media portrayals, the “insanity defense” is only raised in one percent of cases. However, forensic psychologists are qualified to evaluate someone’s mental state at the time of the offense.

In Summary…

This article explained a few of the ways psychologists can be integral participants in legal cases, and how they can. Testify, which is most often as an expert witness versus as a fact witness. The examples included are not exhaustive. The scope of psychologists’ involvement in the legal system continues to grow. Legal professionals have increasingly turned to psychologists to give insight into important and sometimes ambiguous questions about individuals, families, and capacity for change. Forensic psychologists possess the training and expertise to help courts make informed decisions that affect millions of people. If you are a legal professional or a client who is court-involved, consider consulting with a forensic psychologist to assist in objective and fair representation.

Go Outside!

The majority of the world has been stuck inside for almost a year. Not going outside, appreciating nature, and enjoying fresh air can take a toll on your mental health. Try going to a local park. Maybe try a hiking trail if you want a bit of a workout! Maybe try meditating outside or doing some yoga. Studies have shown that “forest therapy” can decrease cortisol levels (a hormone related to stress). 

When To Get Your Child Mental Health Help During Covid-19

The stress, fear and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic can wear anyone down, but children and teens may have an especially tough time coping emotionally. Children and adolescents that were coping with mental health issues prior to COVID-19 are likely to have increased symptomatology.

Home confinement has restricted children from their normal lifestyles, and this influences their mental and physical health. Children rely on their peers to converse, be entertained, play sports, socialize, distract, grow, and learn and to be included. COVID-19 took this away without warning. What once were their coping skills and outlets are now gone.

Children and teens are not used to being with their nuclear family 24/7. Parents went to work, children went to school, followed by after school programs or sports, and at dinner time either the family gathered at the table or went out to eat and spent time together. This routine provided for change in environment, structure, socializing, and family time in increments that were counted on for balance and outlets of emotion and energy. 

Children and teens cannot grasp the concept of the pandemic like adults do and to lose life as they know it is hard to make sense of. Isolation and social distancing have eliminated the things we had taken for granted. “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” explains so much. Children and teens did not realize how the normal day to day activities and interactions played a role in how they feel. But now, with no outlets, the feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, anger, and fear can be even more overwhelming. The first and most important step is to talk to and observe your child for changes in their day to day functioning.

You may not hear these feelings directly from your children, so it is important to take note of the following symptoms:

  • Isolating more than normal 
  • Heightened irritability
  • Sleeping and eating pattern changes
  • Loss of interest in what was interesting before
  • Increased emotional dysregulation or moodiness
  • Lethargy 

These are only a few signs that may indicate your child may benefit from mental health support.  With the pandemic, you may not realize that help is still available. The option of teletherapy, as well as in the office sessions, can help children get the therapy they need.

The Changing of the Leaves

September marks the start of Fall, bringing with it a number of changes to the world around us. Green leaves change to vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red. The heat of summer makes way for the cool breezes of Autumn. How do you deal with changes in your life? Maybe you are a prepper, anticipating problems and finding solutions like a squirrel stashing nuts for winter. Perhaps you wait and see, going with the flow like a leaf in the breeze. Do you put off changes until the last moment, holding on to your old ways and only changing when you have no other option? Do you dive right in, like a child excited for their first day of school? Maybe you deny change all together, refusing to get a new jacket because your old one works just fine, despite the coffee stain. Whatever your strategy, know that change will always be there and anything can change, including how we deal with it. 

Happiness and Physical Health

It’s the beginning of the year where some of your New Year’s Resolutions are getting in shape, whether that be losing weight, gaining weight, maintaining weight or just toning.  Having a healthy active lifestyle is so important and it is so exciting that it is one of your New Year’s Resolutions! Not only does physical health contribute to your happiness, but your happiness affect your physical health. Have you ever experienced physical symptoms (i.e. high blood pressure, a stomach ulcer, low energy, tension in your body) when you are stressed or unhappy? That is your body’s way of telling you, you are unhappy or stressed.  Being physically healthy contributes to lower stress, improving mood and overall happiness. I started out by talking about your New Year’s resolution pertaining to weight, which typically involves going to the gym and exercising.  However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not just exercising, but eating healthier as well. Exercise has various fun forms, which can include going to a gym, dancing, hiking, climbing a mountain, or biking riding. Eating healthy includes adding fruit and vegetables to your diet, drinking a lot of water, and reducing your intake of juice, soda and alcohol. If you are newbie to exercising or eating healthy, start out at least once week and then gradually increase the days.  You do not have to take this journey alone, grab a friend or join a healthy, active meetup group (https://www.meetup.com/)! Remember exercise and being healthy reduce stress and improve mood so go out and pick an active activity today! 

“Having good health, being able to breathe and be happy, that’s one of the most beautiful gifts…”-Roy Ayers

Sex Education

Q: My 13-year-old daughter is entering high school in the fall, and I am afraid that she will be peer pressured to be sexually active. I grew up in a household where talking about sex was taboo, so I am unsure how to even initiate “The Talk!” How can I bring up my concerns and what topics should be discussed?

There is a common misconception among teenagers that all of their peers are engaging in sexual behaviors. This notion fosters a false sense of peer pressure and results in teens (especially boys) feeling pressured to have sex. As a parent, it is your responsibility to address inaccurate beliefs regarding sex – ideally before your teen starts dating or becomes sexually active.

Your child deserves your honesty, so it’s okay to admit that having “The Talk” is difficult. Despite how awkward some topics may seem, strive to keep the conservation going. However, you must first conquer the step that intimidates many parents: initiation. Fortunately, there are strategies you can utilize that make approaching this topic easier! Rather than sitting your child down for a lengthy heart-to-heart talk, try weaving various subjects into everyday conversation. There are plenty of moments throughout the day that can serve as transitions into teaching opportunities. For instance, the occurrence of risky sexual behavior in a TV show or movie could be used to start a discussion about safe sex. By actively choosing to make sex education an ongoing dialogue, you help normalize sexuality!

When deciding what topics to focus on, you should not assume that your child’s sex health education classes in school adequately discuss all topics. Additionally, teens are susceptible to learning misinformation from friends, media, or the Internet. You play an important role in supplementing, correcting and reinforcing any information your child may already know. A good way to begin is to find out what your child already knows and build from there. Listed below are some important topics you can use to develop the conversation.

  • Safer Sex
  • Contraceptive Use
  • Abstinence
  • Pregnancy
  • HIV/AIDS and other STDs as well as STD testing
  • Healthy, respectful relationships
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Sexual orientation/attraction

Exercise and Happiness

We have all been told on multiple occasions throughout our lives that exercising is good for us. Aside from it aiding in weight management and increasing our strength, exercising can contribute to increasing happiness. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, is released in our brain when we exercise. Exercise further contributes to overall happiness, as it energizes us. Though the thought of putting yourself through physical activity sounds strenuous or exhausting, you will feel more energized after your workout than you did before it. Don’t believe it? Test it out for yourself! Other benefits resulting from exercising that contribute to our happiness, include a boost in our confidence as we observe our body transform, decrease in anxiety symptoms, and improved sleep.

COMPASSION AND HAPPINESS

Compassion, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. When we experience compassion, we create activity shifts in our brain that are associated with resiliency and well-being. At the National Institute of Health, Jordan Grafman, conducted a brain-imaging study that demonstrated the pleasure centers in our brain (parts of our brains that are active when we experience pleasure from things such as yummy foods, money, sex) were just as active when observing people giving money to charity as when receiving money for themselves. Happiness stems from compassion because it contributes to broadening our perspective beyond ourselves. When we focus on others and perhaps helping them, our attention shifts from our own issues. This shift in attention can improve our mood and may also lend insight into our own situation. Acts of compassion can be done for those you know, those you do not know, the Earth, or even for yourself!

NEW YEAR, NEW RESOLUTIONS

With a new year comes new resolutions. Reflecting on our difficulties maintaining resolutions is often discouraging; however, we likely set ourselves up for failure before even beginning Often times the resolutions we set are not well defined (e.g., “I will exercise” or “I plan to lose weight”), unrealistic, and/or difficult to maintain. Thankfully, there is a clever acronym to help set us up for success and to guide in the creation of realistic resolutions. The acronym is S.M.A.R.T. and it stands for Specific (simplistically written and clearly defined), Measurable (provides evidence we are meeting or not met our resolution), Achievable (resolution should be slightly challenging, but also bring a sense of confidence it can be achieved), Results-focused (resolution should lead to the desired result), and Time-bound (provides a timeframe that creates a sense of tension between the current reality and the vision of the goal).
To give an example of what this would look like, we will use one of the most common resolutions, exercise. A S.M.A.R.T. resolution might sound something like this, “I will complete 30-minutes of light-moderate exercise three days a week. I will track progress towards this goal through use of a calendar and by the end of the first month I will have created a routine I can maintain. By the end of the sixth months, I will be completing 30-minutes of light-moderate exercise 4 days a week and by the end of the first year, I will maintain 30-minutes of light- moderate exercise 5 days a week.” This example highlights the various parts of the S.M.A.R.T. goal, but we recommend personalizing it for yourself. For example, maybe instead of increasing the number of days you exercise, you could increase the amount of time you exercise on the three days. The key is to make goals that are realistic for you – and do not be afraid to start out with small goals. If you find these goals are too easy and do not provide a sense of challenge, you can always increase the difficulty! Alternatively, if you find your initial goals were a little ambitious, reduce them to a more appropriate level. As a last note, if you have several desired resolutions, we recommend prioritizing only one or two before incorporating the others. In this coming New Year, work S.M.A.R.T., not hard!